Thai 'billionaire peasant' joins the election fray

Tycoon Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit (left) and Assistant Professor Piyabutr Sangkanokkul, the co-founders of Future Forward, at the party's official launch event in Bangkok yesterday.
Tycoon Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit (left) and Assistant Professor Piyabutr Sangkanokkul, the co-founders of Future Forward, at the party's official launch event in Bangkok yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BANGKOK • Tycoon Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, 39, registered his new political party yesterday, joining more than 50 other parties keen on running in Thailand's general election, expected to be held by early next year.

The scion of Thai car part-maker Thai Summit Group has been in the public and media spotlight since announcing his political intentions early this month, because of his strong criticism of coups, especially those in 2006 and 2014, and the military's recent roles in Thai politics.

Local media have called him "a billionaire peasant" for his opposition to the so-called elites in the Thai political landscape, often represented by the military and those against former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

He formed his party, Future Forward, with Assistant Professor Piyabutr Sangkanokkul, 38, a Thammasat University law lecturer.

Both men have been outspoken in their anti-coup stance and been accused of being nominees of the Thaksin-backed Pheu Thai party.

They have never responded to the accusation, but have positioned themselves as the new power shapers in Thai politics who refuse to give in to the country's political divisiveness. They have also reaffirmed their stance against the appointment of a prime minister who has not taken part in an election.

At yesterday's press conference before the party registration in Bangkok's business district, the two men appeared with other founding members of the party, who Mr Thanathorn called ordinary people.

The founding members include university students, young entrepreneurs, academics, labour and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) activists and a representative from the disabled community, who will work together to bring Thailand out of the "lost decade", the party's press release said. Mr Thanathorn said in an introduction video that "the future cannot be designed by those who would not live in it".

Prof Piyabutr added: "Most of the people aged 18 to 35 are not part of the political conflict but they will inherit this sinful scenario. They have the legitimacy to leave this conflict.

"All sides have spent their energy fighting one another but we want to rekindle faith in democracy and get the country out of crisis."

Thailand has been bitterly divided since a 2006 coup toppled Thaksin's government. The military government that assumed power after that coup vowed to do away with Thaksin's influence in Thai politics. But reincarnations of his party had won every election in Thailand since then, until the May 2014 coup toppled the government of his sister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Mr Thanathorn is the nephew of Mr Suriya Juangroongruangkit, a former transport minister during Thaksin's tenure as prime minister.

Future Forward is the 58th party to have registered with the Election Commission since the beginning of the month. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said last month that the general election would be held by next February.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2018, with the headline 'Thai 'billionaire peasant' joins the election fray'. Subscribe